Addiction Alliance of Georgia Attacks SUDs from Every Angle with Unique Community-Based Model

A new partnership aims to attack substance use disorders (SUDs) from all angles and serve as a reimagined example of addiction treatment in America. Addiction Alliance of Georgia (AAG) is the recently formed organization tasked with making it happen.

AAG was created earlier this year as the result of a partnership between the nonprofit SUD treatment provider Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and Emory Healthcare, the largest health system in Georgia. The pair, along with community partners, are working to develop a new SUD framework focused on prevention, training and treatment.

“The big picture is to create a hub of expertise, in partnership with Emory, that ultimately will be the leading expert in SUD treatment, education and recovery support for the state of Georgia — and potentially a model to be replicated in other parts of the country with other major health care providers,” Nick Motu, project manager for AAG and vice president and chief external affairs officer at Hazelden Betty Ford, told Behavioral Health Business.


Headquartered in Center City, Minnesota, Hazelden Betty Ford has 17 locations nationwide, which offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient treatment options for adolescents and adults. It also boasts a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an advocacy arm, an addiction research center and more.

AAG will be the latest addition to Hazelden Betty Ford’s impressive SUD portfolio. However, Motu says neither he nor his colleagues can take full credit for the inception of AAG, which has been rooted in community engagement since the very beginning.

The idea for the project was largely conceived by Tom Johnson, the former president of CNN, along with Frank Boykin, CFO of Mohawk Industries. Both men are longtime members of the Atlanta community, where they watched addiction rates and the need for SUD services dramatically rise over the years.

Plus, the men have a personal connection to the issue — and to Hazelden Betty Ford itself.

About 25 years ago, Johnson helped then-CNN employee William Cope Moyers — who is now a vice president with Hazelden Betty Ford — find SUD recovery. He’s been an advocate ever since.

So more than two years ago, when Johnson got the idea to bring a residential SUD treatment center to Atlanta, he called Moyers to see if Hazelden Betty Ford was interested in making it happen. From there, the idea grew into the larger project that it is today.

Meanwhile, Boykin helped to inspire the Hazelden Betty Ford’s partnership with Emory.

“[Boykin] had donated money to us to execute SUD training of medical professionals at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta,” Motu said. “They were seeing a tremendous influx of opioid issues within their ER, and they didn’t know what to do with it. … That was kind of … the inspiration for us partnering with Emory, because Emory supplies most of the medical professionals and docs to Grady Hospital.”

Atlanta-based Emory brings deep market knowledge to the partnership, as well as a strong foundation in research.

As part of Emory University, it has investigators in its schools of public health, nursing and medicine currently dedicated to researching SUDs. That’s on top of the health system’s 11 hospitals, an outpatient physician practice and more than 250 provider locations.

“I think it complements the tremendous patient database that Hazelden Betty Ford has been able to acquire over the years, and there’s so many synergies that we can do in terms of research there,” Mark Rapaport — chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and chief of psychiatric services at Emory Healthcare — told BHB.

How it works

AAG will be funded by a combination of private and public money. That includes philanthropic donations, as well as by state and federal funding, which AAG is already aggressively pursuing, according to Motu.

AAG is currently accepting outpatient clients on a limited basis out of Emory, but clinical services aren’t slated to begin in earnest until 2021. And even then, it will be a few years before the alliance is fully up and running.

Its growth has been broken into three phases, Motu explained.

Currently, it’s in phase one, which calls for raising about $10 million. That money will go toward AAG treatment, training and research initiatives.

Roughly $5 million will be used to operationalize an intensive outpatient program (IOP) on the Emory Brain Health Center campus in Atlanta. Emory will run the program, while Hazelden Betty Ford will provide management consulting and training.

Meanwhile, about $3 million will go toward education, training and prevention. That includes training medical professionals from Emory and other partners about SUD treatment, as well as doing outreach and prevention work in the community.

“We are very close to launching the first project within that bucket: Doing prevention training in an Atlanta Metro school district,” Motu said.

Finally, about $1.5 million in funding from phase one will go toward research, according to Motu. The goal is to build out AAG’s research component in the next five years to better understand and develop best practices and treatment protocols for SUD.

In phase two, AAG will continue building out its treatment, training and research services. At the same time, it will begin conceptualizing a residential treatment facility.

The plan is to start aggressively pursuing discussions for such a facility in 2022, Motu said.

“[It will be] probably in Atlanta, run as a joint venture between Emory and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation,” he said. “And ultimately, over five years, we hope this is going to be a $50 million nonprofit venture, helping thousands of people not only in Atlanta, but also in greater Georgia.”

In phase three, AAG plans to expand into partial hospitalization and detox services. When the alliance is fully up and running, it will treat hundreds of patients per year, Motu said.

From there, the hope is that AAG will continue to grow and serve as a nexus for the development and provision of SUD programs throughout the entire state of Georgia and beyond, Rapaport said.

“Our goal is to be able to equip primary care providers and social workers with the skill sets to begin to bring state-of-the-art treatment over time throughout the state of Georgia,” Rapaport said. “Our goal is to create … a capacity where these frontline providers will be able to use the AAG as a resource for more complex cases, and if need be, actually even send them to an AAG facility over time. Our goal is to get into the schools and train people in junior high and high school about SUDs and resilience — and to teach people and give them the skill sets necessary to not turn to drugs. But if they do end up using drugs, the knowledge and the fact that what’s happened is a brain disease.”

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